5 Tips for Better Telephone Skills

by Anne M. Obarski

When the phone rings, are you annoyed at the interruption? The way you and your employees answer the phone sets the stage for your customers' experience with you. Here are five tips for ensuring your phone skills give a good impression.

telephone skills
Image source: BigStockPhoto.com

I have to admit I really don't like the telephone. Maybe it is because it is an interruption in an already "overscheduled" world. Even if it is someone I really want to talk to, it sometimes feels like a chore "to be nice"! With the amount of spam phone calls I still seem to receive, even after being on the "Do not call list", I must admit I make assumptions when I pick up the phone. If there is a nano-second of a pause when I pick up the phone, I immediately assume I am on someone's computer list just waiting to pounce if they here a real person on the other end of the phone.

However, when I am initiating the call I really "want" another human on the other end of the line. I don't want to be put in "voice mail jail" and being warned that the phone calls are taken in the order they are received and if I hang up and call back I may be waiting until doomsday to get to someone. I must admit I have stayed "on the line if you have a rotary phone for the next available agent"; not really remembering when I last SAW a rotary phone. Want to have a real laugh? Ask a teenager what a rotary phone is. It will either make you laugh or maybe cry at their response!

No matter which type of phone caller or business owner you happen to be, this communication tool, no matter how big or small is here to stay. It is important to know how to use it efficiently and effectively. With so much cell phone usage, right or wrong, that adds another dimension to the mix.

Regardless how fancy your Bluetooth, or cell phone or rotary phone with, heaven help us, a cord, is, it is important to address and put into practice, correct phone techniques.

I challenge businesses to think that every time their phone rings, it is their paycheck calling. I also challenge businesses to look at their phone with as much respect and interest as they look at their merchandise, their marketing, and their employees; it is a reflection of their "brand". Dr. Janelle Barlow, in her book, "Branded Customer Service" says, "Reinforcing a brand through every customer touch point, therefore, can provide the repetition necessary to inspire repeat purchasing decisions".

She also spends a great deal of time discussing being "on brand" or "off brand". In other words, you may say in your advertising literature and in store signing that the customer is number one, but if your customer can never get someone to answer the phone when they call, then your standards for answering the phone are "off brand".



When you think about your phone calls that way, you are more apt to answer the phone with a little more expectation in your voice rather than disgust. If you train your employees to do the same, you will start looking at your phone as a sales building tool. There are interesting statistics that show people develop a perception about you within the first 30 seconds of a phone conversation and their final opinion of you in the last 30 seconds. Let's look at some phone tips that will boost that final opinion to one of an on-going, on brand, positive relationship!

1. Breathe! Before you pick up the phone, take a deep breath. Most of us are what they call "shallow breathers". We take small breathes in and out and therefore, sound tired when we answer the phone. The goal is to sound like you like your job and you are glad they called.

Practice taking a very big breath and answering the phone at the top of that breathe. You will continue speaking on the exhale of that breath and the caller will hear energy in your voice! You can also practice it when you are making a call and start your breath as the phone is ringing on the other end. You'll be surprised how you feel when you use this technique. You may try it the next time your mother-in-law calls!

2. Identify yourself. Give your full name and function and or the name of your company. Since they have taken the time to call you, you may answer the phone this way; "Thank you for calling Merchandise Concepts, this is Anne Obarski, how can I make it a great day for you?" Hokey, maybe; memorable, maybe; friendly, you bet. Since I have an unusual last name, this helps me say it first so that the caller doesn't have to fumble with the pronunciation. One tip that I seem to always repeat, is that of slowing down when you answer the phone or when you call to leave a message. How many times have you had to re-play your answering machine to understand what the person was saying or the phone number that rattled off too fast?

3. Be Sincere. If we are honest with ourselves, we are all "problem solvers" in some way. People call us on the phone to have a problem answered. Whether it is to get driving directions, or hours of operation or questions about our merchandise, they have a question and want it answered quickly, intelligently and politely.

It is important to put the customer's needs ahead of ours. Have you ever been in a store and you were just about ready to put your things down on the counter to pay for them and the employee says, "You'll have to go to another register, I am going on break now". A customer will remember how attentive you were to their needs when they are asked to make a referral!

4. Listen attentively. Put everything down when you answer the phone! Easier said than done, isn't? How many times have you been in your office answering email, talking on the phone, listening to your ipod and sipping on a Starbucks? Me too. Shame on us. Customers don't like to be ignored and by multitasking, we are not focused on the customer's wants and needs.

Visualize the person, even if you don't know them so that you remind yourself you are engaged in a two-way conversation. If you still have trouble listening, start taking notes on what they are saying. Use a headset if possible, to keep your hands free. By taking notes you can verify with them as well as yourself, the important points of the conversation and the action items that needed attention.

5. Outcome. If the phone call has been successful, the first 30 seconds established a positive perception about you through voice, and tone and focus. The last 30 seconds will be when the caller finalizes their opinion about you. You can make that a positive experience by thanking them for calling, reviewing the problem you were able to solve and then most importantly, thanking them for their continued business.

I find myself on airplanes frequently with my speaking schedule. Recently I have noticed that no matter what airlines I am flying that the pilot has "air time" with the passengers on each flight. The words are all about the same. They share the weather in the city we are headed to, the time we should be arriving, the details about the lavatories and not to congregate in the aisles, as well as the great flight attendants, and then they always say something like this, "We know you have a choice when you travel and we are happy that you have chosen to fly with us, and we appreciate that. We ask that if your future travel plans involve flying that you will think of us first. So sit back, relax and enjoy the on-time flight to wherever."

The pilot set up the outcome in the passenger's minds by stating it up front. He started by building a trusting relationship with the passengers that he couldn't see, by coming across as very approachable. Then he told us the important things we should know about the flight and who would help us if we had a problem and then in conclusion, he asked for our repeat business. Trust for me is built on the sound and the sincerity of the pilot's voice.

That isn't that much different than when your employees talk to your customers. To build a strong business, you need to have repeat and referral business. What easier way than to ask for their continued business at the end of each and every phone call.

The way you speak over the telephone conveys 85 percent of your message, so by focusing on the previous 5 tips you and your employees can make it a smooth flight in your business each and every time your phone rings.

Anne M. Obarski is a professional speaker and trainer. For more information, visit her web site at http://www.merchandiseconcepts.com/speaking.html or email Anne at anne@merchandiseconcepts.com. She can also be reached via telephone 724-941-4149 or fax 724-941-4304.

 
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